A sermon on Psalm 98 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 24 April 2022.
Sometimes our hopes for the future are just too small. We don’t want to go to hell. We want to live forever. We want to see our loved ones again in heaven. There’s nothing wrong about wanting these things, but sometimes these hopes are too small. And that’s a problem because if our hopes are too small they can’t carry us through when times are tough.
If our hopes are too small we can’t understand what God is doing and then we can’t love him with all our heart. We only care about what’s in it for us. If our hopes are too small it’s hard to love what God loves. If our hopes are too small we won’t want to join God’s mission to the whole world. We need to broaden our horizons. We need to remember that the future focuses not around us but around God. We need to remember that his purposes extend far beyond just what happens to us and to the people we love.
Psalm 98 helps us to broaden our horizons because it reminds us that God’s purpose is to bring justice to the whole of creation. And when his justice reigns, all creation will sing.
Sing, says Psalm 98’s very first word. It’s a command urging us to make music with our voice. I don’t know about you but I love music. I love the way that music can speak right to our heart, allowing us to express our feelings and to change or to amplify our mood. And not everyone can learn the guitar. Not everyone can afford a piano. But most of have a voice and we can make music with it when we sing.
And it’s nice to see down in verse 4 that when we don’t have the ability to sing we always have the option to just shout for joy. I’m going to see Midnight Oil tonight and that’s what Peter Garrett does, isn’t it? He can’t sing, but he can shout for joy. And so can you.
Verse 1 says, Sing. More precisely it says, Sing to the Lord. We are to make music to our creator God, our redeemer and saviour. Singing is a valid and important part of our worship because when we sing to the Lord, our words express our thoughts while the music expresses our feelings, and we can use it to tell the Lord how much he means to us. Putting our gratitude and love into words and music and sending it to him in song, placing ourselves, body and soul, in his service and into his care. Singing to the Lord isn’t just fun, it is commanded of us. It is not only good for us, but it is what pleases the Lord.
Verse 1 says, Sing to the Lord, or more precisely, Sing to the Lord a new song. And there are many occasions on which the old songs just won’t do. For example, you can’t turn up at Eurovision singing the same song as last year. You have to turn up with something new or no one will listen to you. More importantly, a special occasion will have new music composed for it. Like the coronation of a new monarch. It’s something new. Something different. A once in a lifetime event. And any old song just won’t do.
The Bible speaks of a “new song” in response to a moment when the Lord had saved his people. They were in danger, and they could not help themselves. But the Lord intervened. He stepped in and rescued them and their lives were saved. It was a once in a lifetime event that extended all their lifetimes and when his people organised the celebration of their victory they wrote a new song because none of the old songs would do.
The new song that Psalm 98 is telling us to sing is Psalm 98. This psalm is the new song that we are invited to join in with. Unfortunately, we don’t know the occasion that inspired it. We can only guess what the celebration was at which it was first performed. A good guess, but only a guess, is that it was first sung when the temple was rebuilt in about 516 BC. That’s the kind of event that would need a new song. But it’s just a guess.
Verse 1 says,
Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him.
Like I said earlier, Psalm 98 is the new song that was written and sung in response to an act of great salvation. His people were weak, but the Lord was strong. He raised his right hand and he crushed their enemies. Or more precisely, he crushed his enemies. Yes, he worked salvation for them, his people, but he also did it for him, for himself, to achieve his purpose and plan.
Think about Easter. Yes, Jesus died for us. When we were sinners, he gave himself for our forgiveness. And yes, when the Father raised Jesus to life, he did it for his faithful son to rescue him from death. But more importantly, the events of Easter lie at the heart of God’s own plans for his creation. He created us, he made everything, for life. Through his Son, God has destroyed death. He did it for us. But more importantly, he did it for himself. For his own reputation. For his own glory. For his own victory over every power and force that tries to frustrate his purposes. So that salvation is just the name we give to the chance we have to share in God’s victory.
This is just one way that our hopes are too small. We hope for a future of eternal bliss, but what the future holds is not just our immortal happiness but God’s complete victory over his enemies that try to frustrate his plans.
But here’s another way that Psalm 98 expands the horizons of our hopes. Verse 2 says that
The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.
The Lord’s salvation is his righteousness. And a good word to help us understand what righteousness is, is justice. The Lord is good and right and true. He is loving and merciful and faithful. So that what pleases him, what he commands, what he expects from us, are choices and actions and behaviour that are good and right and true as well. This is righteousness. It is not just dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s of God’s law. Righteousness is justice, right action and conduct that is in accordance with our creator’s will and that is good for us and that is good for all. The Lord expects from us was is just and fair. Anything that contradicts that will and purpose, anything that destroys life and restricts freedom and treats people like things is unjust.
And isn’t that what distresses us when we watch or read the news, when we see things that happen that aren’t right. That aren’t fair. That are wrong. That are wicked. When nations invade other nations. When the rich get better treatment than the poor. When people are in trouble but help comes to them too late. It’s not right. It’s not fair. It’s unjust.
But when the Lord intervenes, when the Lord saves, what he does is to destroy injustice. What he does is to reveal his righteousness, to restore his justice. This is what our hearts really long for. Not just that we can escape this hell on earth to live forever in a paradise in the sky. But that the Lord will intervene. That he will come to save. And when he comes that he will do a thorough job and not leave one stone unturned. But he rid the world of all injustice and put right all wrongs and bring peace once and for all. And wipe away every tear so that there will be no more crying or pain.
Do you see how it expands the horizons of our hopes? What the future holds is not just a retirement village in the clouds for church people who have been good, but nothing less than the extermination of evil from God’s good creation. The righting of all wrongs, so that justice may reign.
This is why, in verse 4, the people of all nations are invited to join the song of praise.
Shout for joy, all the earth.
When the Lord intervenes, when the Lord saves, it is never for just one person or one nation or one race, but it is for the sake of all the people in the world. Yes, in the Old Testament God’s salvation often meant that he saved his people Israel from another nation that had invaded them. But it’s important to remember that God’s people, Israel, always existed for the sake of the whole world. In the Old Testament they were the special witnesses of God’s glory and received God’s special blessing. But they always existed, from beginning to end, to fulfil the purposes of the God who did not just create Israel, but made Egypt and Babylon and Australia. He is not the God of one nation but the God of all people. Their maker, their creator, their only Saviour, their only hope.
So when God acted for Israel, he was never doing it for them alone but for the hope of the whole world that would come through them. And what came through Israel was the birth of Jesus. Israel’s Messiah and the world’s only Saviour. So that when he rose from the dead he sent his disciples not just to the lost sheep of Israel but to every nation on earth so that they may know that their saviour had come and they could put their faith and all their hopes in him.
See how it expands the horizons of our hopes. God has more than just a one bedroom unit in his heaven for you. Not just a four bedroom house for you and for all you love. But a house with many mansions with room for people of every tongue and nation. Yes there is room for you. But only because there is room for more than just you, so that all the earth may shout for joy.
But Psalm 98 expands our hopes even further to invite all creation into the song of worship.
Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
The earth and the sea and all their inhabitants and creatures are invited to join in with the new song of praise to the Lord. The Lord’s purposes are not just for you. They are not just for all the people of the world. But they are for his whole creation.
Consider the child’s question. Will my dog go to heaven? Here’s the wrong answer, no, your dog won’t go to heaven because it doesn’t have a soul. As if heaven is holiday resort for humans. Here’s the right answer, yes, because there is no heaven without your dog. Because what God has planned is not just a heaven, but a new heaven and a new earth. And that doesn’t mean just a new planet earth as if it was the only planet that matters. But heaven and earth are just shorthand for the whole universe. What God has planned is a new and improved creation, a universe restored to his will. So that the future is not just good for God and good for you and good for all humans but good for all creatures.
The sea and the earth, the rivers and mountains, the forests and deserts, are invited to join in the praise to God. Why?
Because the Lord is coming. He is coming to judge the earth.
This is not bad news, although too often we think it is. It is good news. It is the gospel. The Lord is coming. Hallelujah.
He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.
And what do righteousness and equity mean? They mean justice. It means he will judge the world, its peoples, its institutions. He will do it justly and the standard he will use is justice.
You see, we fear God’s judgment because we are afraid that he’s going to do a bad job. We’re afraid that when he comes to get rid of all evil that he will get rid of us too. Like a bad surgeon who tries to kill the disease and kills the patient too. But his purpose is to right all wrongs and to put all our wrongs right as well. And it was for this reason that Christ died for us. Not just for our forgiveness, but for our complete salvation, so that we may be restored to God’s original plan.
Friends, it is time for us to expand the horizons of our hopes. Because if your hopes are too small then eventually there is no room in them for you. You don’t want to go to hell? Then don’t. Repent and believe the good news. Put your hope in Jesus the world’s only hope. You want to live forever? Here’s good news, death is the last enemy that the Lord will crush under his heal. Do you want to see your loved ones again in heaven? You will see more than just your loved ones. You will see the complete victory of the Lord over all the powers of injustice. You will see the fulfilment of his plan of blessing for his whole creation. You will see a multitude of people from all nations and races. For the Lord comes. He will judge with justice and equity. And when his justice reigns all creation will sing.